PLEASANT HILL, S.C. (AP) — A number of South Carolina residents near the coast are evacuating and others are piling up sandbags anew outside homes and businesses, bracing for more possible flooding even as the nation’s Homeland Security chief is set later Friday to tour areas hit hard by recent heavy rains.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson planned to travel to Columbia and Charleston during the day Friday to meet with federal, state and local officials and see the recovery efforts firsthand from what South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has described as a 1,000-year rainstorm. While skies are clear again after past days of rain, residents along or near the coast are readying as rain-swollen rivers reach the sea.
Members of the South Carolina National Guard, stationed at a fire station in the rural hamlet of Pleasant Hill about 30 minutes from Georgetown, were busy Thursday helping people get to shelters from areas still cut off by road flooding. In some areas, flooding is expected to worsen in coming days and Georgetown, which fronts a coastal bay fed by a series of rivers, is especially watchful.
Guardsmen Michael Sanders, 21, and Michael Dunmore, 19, manned a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle, a truck with high clearance and a sealed engine that can easily move through 4 feet of water. The back was covered with canvas and outfitted with seats for those being evacuated out of the areas still threatened by floodwaters. The two are among some 2,800 Guard members called up to help deal with the flooding.
An Associated Press reporter rode along while the truck easily forded several feet of water on a rural road to reach a man seeking shelter. No sooner had the man been dropped off where a bus would take him to Georgetown than the guardsmen, guided by a local fire lieutenant, drove to a nearby hamlet where a woman and three young children also needed to be ferried out.
“This is the most water I have ever seen,” Sanders said. “There is water running across the roads and there is water in yards, some worse than the others.”
Sanders was in Columbia, the hard-hit state capital, when he was called to the coast for disaster response work. He said it took 7 hours to drive from Columbia to Georgetown because of the flooding along the way. Normally, the stretch is a 2 ½ hour drive.
“It’s a unique situation. All we can do is the best we can,” Dunmore said.
Some motorists honked in greeting and people standing by the road waved as the heavy truck wound down the back roads not far from the Black River.
There was no water immediately threatening the homes of the people evacuated on Thursday. But several homes were isolated because of road flooding in other areas — flooding that Haley warned could get worse.
The governor on Thursday urged those in low-lying areas near the coast to “strongly consider evacuating” before floodwaters sweeping down river reach those areas. “We have thousands of people that won’t move. And we need to get them to move,” she said. “They don’t need to be sitting in flooded areas for 12 days.”
Officials say there were no mandatory evacuations but people need to be alert.
“We want people to be hyper-vigilant,” said South Carolina National Guard commander Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston, adding some had become “complacent” in recent days.
In Georgetown, where floodwaters ran a foot or more deep over the weekend, merchants were again placing sand bags by doors and on the sidewalk next to businesses.
In the state capitol of Columbia, work is still under way to repair the city’s water system that serves 375,000 customers after that city was hit hard by the rains. A canal that serves as the main source of drinking water for about half those customers collapsed in two places following historic rainfall. Contractors built a rock dam to plug the holes while National Guard helicopters dropped giant sandbags into the rushing water.
Water from the canal feeds the reservoir at the city’s water treatment plant. With the levels in the canal falling, pumps are helping get water from the canal into the reservoir.